Industrial IoT is a different world – or is it?

Although there are many similarities in the broader sense between the usage of the IoT in a consumer environment, the Industrial Internet of Things or Industrial Internet is a different world in many regards.

This is, among others, the case in the scale, sought benefits and transformations, use cases, actors, types of industries and overall IoT technology stack. You won’t find Oracle, SAP or HPE, to name some IoT platform vendors in your consumer IoT devices. More importantly, there is the whole cyber physical dimension of the Industrial Internet and Industry 4.0 and the – until now – isolated and extremely complex world of Operational Technology (OT), whereby IT and OT integration is key.

Speaking with people in the industry we understand that a majority of people don’t know what the IoT really is yet (and we do mean the Industrial Internet ‘industry’). In other industries and among consumers it’s even worse.

Moreover, it is crystal clear that “the Internet of Things” isn’t the best term ever invented but it is what it is, even if there is indeed a world of difference between consumer applications and let’s say, IoT in manufacturing, the largest industry from an IoT spending perspective and the number one Industrial IoT market. Yet, no matter how different they are, there are also many commonalities.

Is the Industrial Internet a world apart - IoT in the cyber-physical Industry 4.0 world

Context matters: beyond “the cartoonish version of the IoT world”

One of the companies that has been investing quite a bit in the Industrial Internet is GE. In fact, the company coined the term as a leader in solutions for industry.

In an OracleVoice article on Forbes on February 15th, 2017, GE’s chief digital officer Bill Ruh is quoted as saying “Terms like IoT are absurdly confusing—OK, connect the machine and get data off it. Everybody can do that. Well, no—that’s a simplistic, cartoonish version of the IoT world.”

He is right. You can’t indeed compare jet engines, smart factories, medical imaging systems and so forth with a smart thermostat in your home. On the other hand, we must emphasize though that it’s important to know where GE and other Industrial Internet of Things players such as Siemens, Schneider Electric, Pitney Bowes, Honeywell, Mitsubishi and Tata, to name a few, are coming from.

By comparing the business of (Google’s) Nest with that of GE, the Industrial Internet, Ruh of course emphasizes the difference of his business (and that of Oracle) and of the Industrial IoT.

Furthermore, Industry 4.0 giants have a strong background in Operational Technologies and processes and it’s in the convergence of IT and OT, as well as the reality of cyber-physical systems that are added to it with an IoT dimension, that the Industrial Internet largely fits.

These concepts and realities are probably known and understood even less with anyone who knows the Internet of Things but has no experience in industrial markets, robotics and so fort. And, again, these are complex technologies.

But this doesn’t mean that as the IoT evolves in consumer spaces, the smart home and so forth, we’re talking about cartoons. We are talking about real business as well. In fact, distinguishing between an Industrial IoT and a Consumer Internet of Things strictly speaking is nonsense. The main reason we do it is to try to tell people that the Internet of Things is many many things (not in the sense of devices) and not a thing. It’s to show the different use cases, even if de facto lots of use cases overlap.

Yet, if we look at things in a black and white way (the ‘big’ Industrial Internet versus the consumer side of things in which there is still a lot of, well, hype and crap indeed), we miss out on an increasingly large segment of cross-industry IoT use cases and even devices.

A connected vehicle, for instance, can mean many things. Wearables, to use another example, are used by consumers but also play a (growing) role in industrial settings, even if we talk about other kinds of wearables.

Use cases and business goals matter but so does connecting and getting data off what is connected

The point is this: yes, in a sense the Internet of Things is a misnomer as said before but if you’re consequent you can say the same thing about wearables, connected vehicles, smart buildings (a smart home is not a smart data center or a huge smart building with offices, shops, a hotel etc.) and so forth.

Everything is about the use case and the goal of the project within which the ‘Internet of Things’ is used. It’s important to realize this.

We can use all the terms we want and debate them (Internet of Everything, Industrial Internet, Internet of Things, Industry 4.0, Industrial Internet of Things, whatever), fact is and remains that the IoT has clear characteristics and components, technological and others, which set it apart and make it that third stage of the Internet. We don’t need the term but we need no black and white thinking either; there is room for everything.

Cyber physical systems and the Internet of Things in the fourth industrial revolution

Connecting machines – or things – and getting data off them is maybe not the most advanced activity in the world but if it’s not done there is no Industrial Internet of Things either.

Of course GE and the industrial world are far ahead and do different things (in fact, with IoT it’s probably one of the first times ever that the first movers come from these industries as it’s simply a natural evolution in an already highly technological environment with loads of assets and parts whereby major efficiencies and innovations can be realized); obviously the usage of IoT technologies in order to achieve any business and customer outcome moves at different speeds, depending on industry and content; again, the world of Operational Technologies is so different; and, sure, we are still at the beginning in so many ways but if it isn’t “connected” (or better: IoT-enabled or designed for IoT connectivity) and we don’t get data off it (in order to leverage it one way or the other in scenarios that will be more advanced in slower moving industries soon as well), we get nowhere.

IoT as a term for different worlds – comparing with ‘the cloud’

Companies like GE had to do it as well, even if we must say that from the very beginning, the Industrial Internet was about a cyber-physical Industry 4.0 kind of revolution in which the Internet of Things is an integrated part.

Today, the Industrial Internet and Industrial Internet of Things are used interchangeably. In fact, it’s the mission of the Industrial Internet Consortium to promote the usage of the Industrial Internet of Things. And GE was the main founder of that Consortium. Maybe it’s best to use the Industrial Internet in its broader scope of which Industrial IoT is a part, just as data, AI and so forth are. Or by looking at the goal as Ruh does: industrial outcomes.

We can obviously come up with other terms, be our guest, but just look at all other technological enablers: the cloud, artificial intelligence, you name it. You can hardly compare the usage of a SaaS application for file sharing with large mission-critical enterprise IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) deployments. Still, in both cases we speak about the cloud.

So is the Industrial Internet a different world? Yes, just think about the OT and cyber-physical aspects. However, at the same time it fits in a context in which it is the Internet of Things, whether we like that or not. So, in a sense it’s also NOT a different world but a big area with lots of applications, use cases and zones we can call whatever we want but in the end are IoT.

And in the end: purpose, people, process and context first, always.



Top image: Shutterstock – Copyright: archerix – Industry 4.0 image Copyright: elenabsl – All other images are the property of their respective mentioned owners.